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 Tuesday, 24 December, 2002, 11:44 GMT
Moscow court begins siege claims
Russian special forces prepare to storm the Moscow theatre
Over 100 people died when the theatre was stormed
A court in Moscow has held a preliminary hearing into compensation claims against the city authorities, brought by dozens of people caught up in October's theatre siege.

Thirty-eight families have joined the lawsuit. Some were taken hostage by the Chechen rebels who seized control of the theatre; others are relatives of the more than 120 hostages who died.

If the claims are upheld, the case would make Russian legal history and land city officials with a bill of up to $40m.

A full hearing is to be held on 16 January, lawyers say.

Woman holds photo of her relative being held hostage
Relatives of victims are among those suing the city
The Moscow city government has denied responsibility for the tragedy.

Most of the hostages who died were killed by the toxic gas pumped into the theatre to subdue the militants. More than 40 rebels also died.

Igor Trunov, a lawyer representing victims of the siege said he hoped the case would set a precedent by allowing other victims of terrorist attacks to sue the authorities.

Mr Trunov said the claim was being based on a new law, which he said allowed for the victims of terrorist attacks to be compensated.

"I think in general it's a peculiarity of Russia that when the law defines rights, you still have to struggle to be able to expect something," Mr Trunov said.

He said there were precedents in Russia for moral damages to be paid to victims.

But the hearings could drag on for months, even years, he said.

Financial strain

Among those suing the city government is Viachislav Zanovsky.

His wife Yilena was killed when Russian special forces stormed the theatre.

Mr Zanovsky told the BBC he held the city authorities directly responsible for failing to prevent a terrible terrorist attack in the centre of the Russian capital.

Moscow officials have described the lawsuits as unfair and unjust and they have warned that if the claims are upheld they will put a strain on the Russian capital's finances.

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  The BBC's Stephen Dalziel
"Who pays is an issue still to be settled"

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16 Dec 02 | Europe
03 Dec 02 | Europe
02 Nov 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
26 Oct 02 | Europe
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